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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The Bnei Yisrael were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt. (13:18) The simple translation of "chamushim" is armed. Klal Yisrael were prepared for the possibility of attack. Targum Yonasan ben Uziel says the root of chamushim is chamesh, five. Consequently, he asserts that each family went out with five children. Targum Yerushalmi suggests that chamushim means armed, but this is not a reference to war. Rather, it alludes to being armed with mitzvos. Klal Yisrael feared no enemy. They had the ultimate protection - mitzvos. Lastly, Rashi cites Chazal who maintain that chamushim is derived from the word "chamesh," five, meaning that only one-fifth of Klal Yisrael left Egypt. The other four-fifths were Jews who were enamored with Egyptian culture, who had regrettably acculturated. For some reason, they thought that they would eventually be accepted as Egyptians. They did not want to leave. They all perished, however, during the three days of makas choshech, the plague of darkness.

Horav Yosef Zundel Salant, zl, suggests that all three expositions complement one another. He questions Targum Yonasan who contends that each family left with five children. Is it possible that each family had only five children? No source supports this idea. Furthermore, how is it that previously they had had no mitzvos? They had been considered naked/bereft of zechusim, merits, that would warrant and support their redemption. Indeed, Hashem "gave" them the mitzvos of Korban Pesach and Bris Milah, so that they would have something "to show" for themselves. Yet, the Targum relates that they left Egypt armed with merits. What were these newly discovered merits?

The Torah is, therefore, suggesting that while four-fifths of the Jews died, their children remained alive and well - orphans with nowhere to go, no one to care for them. We may conjecture that since everyone left Egypt, it must have been the remaining one-fifth, the righteous Jews who were left, that cared for these orphans. Targum Yonasan means that each of the surviving families who left Egypt cared for four families of orphans. In other words, each family had five families of children: its own, and four families of orphans. The Torah lauds these virtuous Jews for their magnanimous support of the many orphans. They cared for them, took them into a wilderness, even though they knew not from where the food for their own children would come. These are the good deeds, the wonderful merits, to which the Targum Yerushalmi refers.

We still must understand why the Torah chooses this juncture to tell us that these good deeds helped to catalyze Klal Yisrael's release from Egypt. Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, explains that specifically at this point -- when Klal Yisrael stood at the threshold of the wilderness, a place infested with dangerous creatures, with no food or water, surrounded by menacing nations bent on destroying them -- they needed special zechusim, merits. They had to rely solely upon their Father in Heaven, the Almighty Who protects them from danger. Hashem Yisborach, the Avi Yesomim, Father of Orphans, looked at Klal Yisrael, at a People who had opened their hearts and homes to thousands of orphans. They had committed to caring for Hashem's yesomim; He would, in turn, care for them. There is no greater zechus than that of caring for someone who has been left bereft of his parents.

There is an incredible story that demonstrates this idea: The Yid Ha'Kodesh of Peshischa was once studying an intricate passage in the Talmud with his students. One of the students asked a profound question that literall stumped everyone - including the Rebbe. He became so totally engrossed in the subject that he lost perception of where he was. One of his metzuyanim, prized students, was an orphan who had lost his father. Food was a problem for most people in those days, and it certainly was an issue for a family who did not have a father to supply material support. This student was starved, not having eaten all day. Suspecting that the Rebbe would be involved in deep thought for some time, he decided that he would quickly run home to grab something to eat, so that he could better concentrate on his studies.

He ran home, ate quickly, and was almost out the door when his mother called him to give her a hand for a moment. If he could only climb up to the attic to bring down a sack of straw. Surprisingly, the young man turned to his mother and said, "I am late for shiur, I am afraid the Rebbe is ready to explain the answer. I cannot afford to be late." Recognizing her son's concern, the mother sighed and said to herself, "Fine, my son, go back to your learning. I really should not have asked your help. But what can I do? I am a widow who has no one at home but you."

The student ran back to the shiur. Suddenly it dawned on him that he had been neglectful of derech eretz, respect, for his mother. Learning Torah is all-important, but it is also all encompassing. What benefit was his Torah learning if it did not bring to action? He quickly ran back home and apologized to his mother. After he brought down the sack of straw, he left. His mother called out to him, "I hope you did not miss your shiur."

As he walked through the door of his Rebbe's home, the Rebbe picked up his head and smiled at him, "What great mitzvah did you perform that you are worthy of such a dignified escort? Do you know who accompanied you here?" The young man, not knowing to what the Rebbe was referring, just stood there, shamefaced, wondering what it was that the Rebbe saw that he could not. The Rebbe continued speaking, "When you entered the room I noticed the great amora Abaye escorting you. He enlightened me by clarifying the Talmudic passage that had us stumped. Tell me, what is it that you did that made you worthy of such a distinguished escort?"

Apparently ashamed, the young man related to the Rebbe all that had occurred, how he had left shiur, refused to help his mother, and ultimately had returned because of his responsibility as a son. Hearing this, the holy Rebbe patted his student on the shoulder as he explained the following: "Abaye was an orphan from both his father and his mother. His tragic circumstance led to his being named Abaye, which is an abbreviation of asher b'cha yerucham yasom, for it is with You (Hashem) that an orphan finds pity (Hoshea 14:4). Abaye never had the opportunity to honor his parents. The beautiful mitzvah of Kibud Av v'Eim was taken from him. Since he died, his spirit pays tribute to those who go out of their way to fulfill the mitzvah that eluded him during his lifetime. It was Abaye who clarified the Talmudic passage to me." How much more meaning does this story give to the mitzvah of honoring our parents!

Moshe took the bones of Yosef with him. (13:19)

Chazal note that only Moshe Rabbeinu took the responsibility for Yosef's remains. The rest of Klal Yisrael was occupied in "fulfilling" the injunction to relieve the Egyptians of their valuables. In doing so, Moshe exemplified Shlomo Ha'melech's dictum, "Chacham lev yikach mitzvos," "The wise of heart takes mitzvos." (Mishlei 10:8) In other words, a wise person devotes himself to the performance of mitzvos. Although requesting the Egyptian valuables was also a mitzvah, a wise man is able to distinguish between mitzvos. To paraphrase Horav Baruch Sorotzkin, zl, "A wise person knows which mitzvah to take." While engaging in transporting Yosef's remains may not have manifest the same material advantage as collecting the Egyptian valuables, its spiritual benefit certainly was greater.

Nachlas Tzvi notes that if all of Klal Yisrael was occupied in executing a single mitzvah, then Yosef became a "meis mitzvah," a corpse who had no one to care for him. Attending to this corpse's burial had the highest priority. Indeed, the care of a meis mitzvah precedes the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. He cites a powerful story which demonstrates the reward for one who is oseik, occupies himself, in the burial of a meis mitzvah.

A Jewish businessman was once returning to Brooklyn, New York, from a business trip to Albany. Having been delayed, he left at nightfall for what should have been a routine trip. In addition to already being fatigued, he drove into a torrential downpour that delayed him even more. Realizing that it was probably too dangerous for him to continue his trip to Brooklyn, he began looking for a motel to spend the night.

At the next tollbooth, he questioned the attendant for directions to the nearest motel. He was told that the closest motel was at least twenty-five miles away. There was, however, a geriatric center where he might conceivably find a place to sleep. Upon arriving at the home, he asked the head nurse if they had an "extra bed" for the night. He was told that while this was highly irregular, they would help him - just until the morning. It seems that a patient had just expired and his bed was available until the morning, when they would clean up the room in preparation for the next patient. Having no recourse, he took the bed and immediately fell asleep.

Morning came very quickly, as an attendant came and woke him, explaining that he was here to clean up the room. Curiosity overtook the person, and he decided to find out in whose bed he had slept. Looking through the effects of the deceased, he saw a wallet with an identification card in the name of "David Almoni." He was shocked that a Jew had spent his last months in a Catholic nursing home. He questioned the attendant regarding the release of the remains. He was told that if there was no family to claim the body, he was to be buried in a private cemetery owned by the diocese, sort of a private "Potters field." Incidentally, "David Almoni" had no family and would be buried in the Catholic tradition in their cemetery.

Sensing that there was a providential factor in his spending the night in this home, the businessman offered to claim the body and bury it in a Jewish cemetery. The administrator of the home was certainly no friend of the Jews and did not expend any extra effort to accommodate his request. Stubbornness gave way to the businessman's persistence. After signing the necessary papers, the businessman was able to claim "David Almoni's" body. With the help of a few of the home's workers, he was able to place the casket with the body into his van. He left for Brooklyn on a mission to see to it that this niftar, deceased, would be availed a Jewish burial.

He came to his shul and asked the president how to go about burying a meis mitzvah. The president told him that he was aware that the Chevrah Kadisha of Washington Heights had access to a small plot of land in which ten gravesites were designated for such a need. He immediately called the Chevrah Kadisha in Washington Heights and related to them the entire story. They, of course, did their own checking to confirm the source of this body. After a short while, they agreed to prepare the corpse ritually in accordance with Jewish law and bury him in the special cemetery.

The chevrah took the body to the taharah, ritual purification room, along with his "sponsor," and they prepared to begin the process of taharah. No sooner had the sheet covering the face been removed than the leaders' face turned white, and he almost fell over in a dead faint. They brought him a chair to sit down and gave him a glass of water to drink until he finally calmed down. After awhile, those assembled asked the leader of the chevrah what was it that caused this terrible reaction on his part. He related the following story.

"I recognize the deceased," he began. "He came to our community about twenty years ago, lonely and homeless. He, more or less, made his home in the shul, eating and sleeping there. He spent most of the day studying in the bais ha'medrash. He would go around from home to home asking for alms, being invited to many members of the community for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. He became a member of the community.

"One day, he approached me and asked, "What happens if a member of the community dies and leaves no relatives? Who takes care of his burial?" I responded that it was truly a problem. We would have to make a collection to purchase a gravesite and all particulars needed for a funeral and burial. Indeed, if we fail to raise the necessary sum, we have a serious problem.

"The man looked at me and said, "I would like to purchase a plot of land specifically for those people who leave this world 'alone,' without anyone to care for them or who have no money to bequeath to others to care for them. I am giving money to the Chevrah Kadisha to provide for ten mesei mitzvah."

"Do you know who our deceased is? He is that individual! That man's name was David Almoni! Hashem repaid his kindness. He will be buried in the cemetery that he created for others like him."

He called the place Masa U'Merivah…and because of their test of Hashem, Saying, "Is Hashem among us or not?" …Amalek came and battled Yisrael in Rephidim…that I shall surely erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens. (17:7,8,14)

Amalek's appearance and his ensuing confrontation with Klal Yisrael are not happenstance. Amalek's role is a response to Klal Yisrael's sudden spiritual relapse. They asked, "Ha'yeish Hashem b'kirbeinu?" "Is Hashem among us?" The response was immediate. The Midrash likens them to a youngster whose father is carrying him from place to place upon his shoulder, lovingly fulfilling his every request. Suddenly, the child asks someone on the street, "Have you seen my father?" Obviously annoyed, the father asks, "Don't you know where I am?" He lowers his son down to the ground where a dog bites him. Likewise, after all of the miracles and wonders that Klal Yisrael enjoyed throughout their liberation from Egypt, they had no right to question Hashem's presence. Thus, he cast them off, leaving them unprotected from the "dogs." Furthermore, Amalek stands as a constant reminder to us of the effects of questioning Hashem's presence. As Chazal aptly define the word Rephidim, "Sherafu yideihem min haTorah," "They loosened their grip on the Torah." Whenever we manifest either the contention of Merivah, the testing of Masah, or the decrease of Torah study as in Rephidim, we will be subject to the "motivation" engendered by the Amalek's endemic to each generation.

Amalek stands constantly ready to remind us of our obligation to Hashem. This may be the meaning of the injunction to "surely erase the memory of Amalek." Why are we adjured to see to it that the "memory" of Amalek be erased? We suggest that Amalek is always prepared to remind us of what could happen if we do not maintain our devotion to Hashem. When we place greater emphasis upon our Torah study and reflect upon Hashem's constant Providence over us, we ensure that Amalek will not need to be used as a reminder of our spiritual deficiency. We are to erase the "memory" of Amalek, eliminate his function as our "reminder." Amalek is the sword hanging over our heads; our goal is to attain that level of spiritual ascendance that this portent will no longer be necessary.


1) Why did Yosef not instruct his children to bury him in Eretz Yisrael?
2) What is another name for Pi Hachiros?
3) Who separated between the Egyptian camp and Klal Yisrael's camp?
4) A. On what day after leaving Egypt did the sea split?
B. When did they sing the Shirah?
5) A. On what date did the manna appear?
B.What day of the week was it?
6) A. Who was Chur's mother?
B. Who was his father?


1) He was sure the Egyptians would not agree to have his body interred outside of Egypt.
2) Pisom
3) Hashem sent an angel to take up position between the two camps. He intercepted whatever the Egyptians threw or shot at the Jews.
4) A. They went into the sea on the night of the seventh day.
B. They sang Shirah the next morning, Shevii shel Pesach.
5. A. Sixteenth of Iyar
B. Sunday
6. A. Miriam
B. Calev

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